At the end of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet sees a vision of a new temple, a new priesthood, and a rejuvenated sacrificial system. The details are uncomfortably specific for Christians who might expect a prophecy to point a little more directly to Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice, and a little less toward jump-starting “the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, [who] shall come near me to minister to me” (Eze. 44:15).
I have read D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God for years, and he spends two days outlining four options for interpreting this section.
Alternately, I have heard someone explain this promise of a rejuvenated Levitical priesthood by the analogy of a father who, at the turn of the 20th century, promises to buy his young son a horse when he is old enough to ride it, but who buys his son a car instead. Did the father break his promise? Not really–he kept the spirit of the promise, but gave his son something better.
These are helpful pathways through the material, and I commend them to you. For what it’s worth, here is another small thought I had as I read this morning in Ezekiel 45, where we read that:
17It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel.
In this vision of a new temple/priesthood/sacrificial system, the prince gains a new role of furnishing the animals to sacrifice. Why would this be? Why not, as always, have the people bring sacrificial animals for themselves?
Perhaps what is happening in Ezekiel is similar to what happens in Zechariah, where the prophet Zechariah has a vision of Joshua the high priest crowned as king:
6:11“Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 12And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. 13It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both”‘”
Priests were to come from the tribe of Levi, in the line of Aaron. Kings were to come from the tribe of Judah, in the line of David. In the prophet Zechariah’s vision, the priest becomes king.
And in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision, the prince supplies the sacrifices for the people.
Maybe the emphasis in these two passages is not so much on the specifics of what is described (e.g., the design of the temple, the choice of a particular priestly line, the duties incumbent upon the prince), but rather on a strange, unresolved blending of roles between priests and princes. The two kingdoms seem to be perfectly held at arm’s length from one another, and then, all of a sudden, the prophets begin to see them merge into one!
Quietly, the prophets, priests, and kings see the glory of own roles fade into the glory of the One who would bring all three roles perfectly together in himself.